It seems to be a fact of life. Once any idea, however noble it may be at the start, begins to gain traction, it will be abused by profiteers and ignorant consumers. Responsible travel is no exception.
Ecotourism blossomed from the demands of a more considerate breed of traveler – people who were interested in getting close to nature while still protecting the very wildlife and environment they wanted to experience firsthand.
I haven’t personally spent a lot of time with endangered species or habitats, so responsible travel hasn’t been a big part of my overseas experiences. But when my RTW trip takes me to Southeast Asia and South America, it will have to take a higher priority, and separating the truly responsible businesses from the frauds trying to capitalize on a recent trend is a tall order.
So, when in doubt, I’ll be keeping my distance from the wildlife I encounter. After all, if wild animals were meant to be ridden and cuddled, they probably wouldn’t be wild. And there are just too many environmental crooks out there who break and drug animals for the purpose of keeping up with tourist demands. So no tiger palaces or elephant rides for me.
I would love to be able to volunteer at a reputable sanctuary, especially one for elephants, but to be completely comfortable with it, I’d have to know as much as possible going in. The organization’s history and mission, the state of the animals’ living conditions, whether the animals are ever made to perform… There’s a lot of due diligence that goes into true responsible travel. I don’t think ecotourism is anything that a resort or tour operator can provide. It’s something travelers have to do for themselves.
You educate yourself as much as possible, and if anything doesn’t feel right, you walk away.